The Evolution of the Greek Language
The Greek language is something that unites all Greeks around the world. Unlike other languages like English, Spanish or French for example, Greek is only officially spoken in Greece and Cyprus, therefore only a few dozen million people speak the language worldwide. This is why the Greek language has always been closely connected to the Greek culture and traditions and there have been many disputes over the previous two centuries over the evolution from the ancient language to a modern Greek language.
I’ve mentioned before that the evolution of Greek language is so rich but that makes it also very complicated and difficult to learn. Even the basic structures are too complicated for people who are used to speaking simple structure languages like English for example.
Two different Greek languages
I was fortunate enough to be born after 1976. I’m telling you this because the issue with the Greek language was finally officially closed that year, and after that, things have progressed normally, despite of what was going on in the past. Therefore, me and all children that went to school in Greece during the late 70’s and 80’s and up to present time, did not have to experience the consequences of using two different versions of the language, one for formal use and one for informal use, as children before did.
From what I have read and from what I was also told by my parents and my grandfather, the situation regarding the language was very impractical and was the source of endless social disputes and fights for decades or even centuries in Greece. Children were taught the official language at school which was very close to an ancient Greek version of the language, and in some areas was even more complicated in structure than the ancient language.
A polytonic system was also used, that was a later invention, since it was not actually used in ancient times. At some point in the past it helped with the pronunciation of the words but as the common language evolved and was eventually simplified, the polytonic system was no longer needed.
Well, this language until 1976 was used in all written, official paperwork, in school and university, whereas on the other side, a modern, much simplified version was used by people at home and among friends.
My generation is the first that did not experience this mess, and learnt a simpler and more practical version of the modern Greek language that is now commonly used everywhere. Me and my generation take it for granted but my parents told me that things were very complicated during their childhood as this bilingualism confused students, forcing them to make mistakes, that were unacceptable at that time, in a very strict educational environment.
As my grandfather explained, things were even worse away from big cities like Athens and Thessaloniki, were people used local dialects. This was my grandfather’s case since he was born and raised in a village of Crete, in the South of Greece where a very strong dialect is spoken until today. This made the children suffer from a confusion when using their own language, until 1976.
Despite being the prime minister of a right-wing government that traditionally was not in favor of a simplified modern Greek language, Konstantinos Karamanlis effortlessly established the modern Greek language. The monotonic system was introduced in 1982 by the socialist prime minister Andreas Papandreou and was also a breakthrough.
I personally didn’t have to learn the polytonic system that was used until then, because I started A’ grade 1984. Thank God I would say now because as I learnt a bit later it was really a nightmare. As I started learning ancient Greek in high school I had to learn how to use the polytonic system. You know what I never did! Although I was a top student at modern and ancient Greek, I could not remember and use the rules of punctuation that are really very difficult.
The thing I did, and mostly do even today, although I admit that I have made some progress, is learning by heart how certain words are written in the polytonic system. I never did follow any rules, I just made a “photocopy” of most commonly used words in my mind and when a word I did not know or remember how to write came up, I would just guess or just use what looked better to my eye…